The ruling elite class in Nigeria has a mischievous way of being rude to those they love to describe as the poor. The condescension cuts across the spectrum, cadre and dispensation whether in a military regime in the country or democracy. And their agents inflict these insults without any qualm of conscience or compunction. A more recent episode is playing out in Edo State as the government sets in motion a plan to build a brand new university in the state. Don’t laugh because the existing one at Ekpoma, Ambrose Ali University, is barely trudging on for lack of adequate funding.
However, and in our opinion, considering the near insatiable demand for tertiary education by the youths of the state, three or more universities in that state will barely fill the yawning gap. Therefore, our argument is not directed at the idea of a new institution but the intentions of the authorities who seem on the path of vainglory.
Curiously, in our view, before even the foundation stone of the university is laid, a huge chunk of the prospective student population has been excluded because their parents are considered not rich enough to afford the fees. Crudely, the university administration has made it clear that the fee will be so high that only the very rich can afford to send their wards there. We call to mind that the school in question will be built with tax payers’ money which includes those of the poverty stricken, low earning segment of the population whose children have been warned never to aspire to attend that school.
This follows a pattern of pronouncements by public officials that certain infrastructure built and maintained with public money are not for the poor. In the days of Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (NITEL), we were told that telephone is not for the poor. But science disproved that and introduced the Global System for Mobile Telecommunications (GSM) that levelled everyone in that aspect.
Abuja, the Federal Capital was designed with the rich in mind. Emphasis was and still is concentrated on the highbrow districts to the utter neglect of the satellite towns designed for the poor. One of the ministers even said in response to the escalating cost of living, especially in the real estate sector, that Abuja is not for the poor. He forgot that the land on which the city itself is built belonged to the poor.
As part of effort to make electricity for the rich alone, the National Electric Power Authority (NEPA), was neglected and public officials scrambled for generating sets as a social symbol to stress the class divide. We also remember the argument that the price of Coca-Cola is cheaper than the price of a litre of fuel, a deliberate ploy then to hike the price of fuel to further suppress the less-privileged who depended and still depend on an outrageously inadequate public transport system.
Back to the universities which is the subject of discussion here. The private universities are mushrooming every day and everywhere. But the cost leaves no one in doubt about the target clientele. The churches and voluntary agency institutions that everyone thought will make the difference, joined in the class-widening game not minding that the seed money used to start the school, in the first place, was extracted from the poor who were told that it was part of God’s work. The private proprietors of those category of schools can be excused because they source their money in the market.
Public schools like the one being planned for Edo State will depend whole and entire on public funding and yet one educated antisocial put in charge of the school saw nothing wrong with embarrassing himself the way he did when he announced gleefully, that the new university will attract high fees so as to keep the children of the poor away. Regardless, the poor will always get by and their children will still go to school.
But it speaks volumes of the kind of society we are cultivating. Intriguingly, the same poor will queue in the rain and hot sun to cast their votes for them, the same people who will turn around and use the same vote to oppress and suppress them. Elsewhere in other climes, the governments make it a policy to carry its citizens along by making and implementing well-focused policy that will encourage the poor to find education attractive and a veritable way of exiting hunger and squalor. They governments of those other countries, including some in Africa make it a point of duty not to leave anyone behind.
We hope that the Edo state government is ready for the anticipated political backlash. Gone are the days of impunity. The government must see reason to either build a school that everyone has access to or abandon the overtly exclusive and obnoxious plan.
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